Workers Describe How They’re Trying to Survive the Trump Shutdown

“Not knowing if I can pay the rent or feed my family next week is hard.”

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

At a Christmas Day press conference, President Donald Trump told reporters that federal workers had signaled to him that they were happy to be furloughed or working without pay. But as the partial government shutdown enters its fifth day, federal workers, contractors, and others who face an indefinite period without a paycheck have taken to Twitter using the hashtag #ShutdownStories to share how it’s affecting their lives.

After Trump insisted that a bill to fund the government include money for a border wall with Mexico, the government entered a partial shutdown on Friday at midnight, after the Senate failed to reach an agreement to keep the government open. More than 380,000 federal workers have been furloughed, while more than 420,000 are deemed “essential” and working without pay. The partial shutdown affects a number of agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Low-wage federal contractors who work as janitors, security guards, and cafeteria servers will also be forced to take leave—and will not receive back pay even if Congress signs legislation authorizing it.

One woman described how her husband may have to go without pay in the new year, even though he is a member of the military.

In the wee hours of Christmas morning, a man tweeted that with the training for his new government job canceled by the shutdown, he has been left in a desperate situation.

Parents also took to Twitter to describe how the shutdown was affecting their children.

When Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) was asked about retroactive pay for workers, he replied, “Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” But for many workers, a recurring theme was fear about paying rent or mortgages.

The shutdown took place during the busy holiday travel season, and a man spoke to a Transportation Security Administration employee who was working for free on Christmas Day.

The White House, meanwhile, has indicated that the shutdown may last into the new year. “It’s very possible that this shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress,” acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday. The reason? Trump refuses to back down until he gets funding for the wall. “I can’t tell you when the government is going to reopen,” he said on Christmas Day. “I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it.”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend